The 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am will have all the familiar touchstones that have made the tournament so popular: beautiful golf courses, big-name pros, and an eclectic mix of famous amateurs drawn from Hollywood and the world of sports. But this year’s Pro-Am will also boast a number of significant upgrades that reflect the passion and vision of Steve John, who will be presiding over his second tournament as CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation. John took over shortly before the 2012 Pro-Am and was little more than a caretaker. This time around, he has had a full year to revitalize a tournament that dates back to 1947.
“Everything we’re doing is about improving the fan experience,” says John. Much of the action is centered around the par-3 17th hole, which is being turned into a more highbrow version of the 16th at the Phoenix Open, golf ’s most celebrated gathering spot. The primary grandstands to the right of the 17th green and directly behind the tee are being enlarged, but the real excitement is happening behind the putting surface, with the addition of a new grandstand. “No one has ever been back there before,” says John. “It’s a great view for the fans and it gives the hole more of an amphitheater feel.”
Adjacent to the new grandstand will be the most significant new fan offering, a two-story sports bar that will be open to all ticket holders. (Access costs $50.) Officially titled the United Fairway Club, it will address Pebble’s lack of a central gathering spot for fans who don’t wish to wander hither and yon but crave more atmosphere than just sitting in the bleachers. The Fairway Club will feature a walk-up bar, a full food menu and numerous TVs. The glassed-in lower level will have stadium seating looking toward the 17th green. The open-air upper deck will have bistro tables and a great view not only of 17 but also the 18th tee and fairway.
“It’s really cool to bring fans closer to the 18th tee, because in the past you couldn’t get anywhere near it,” says John. The focus on the spectator experience extends to the tournament entrance, which has been relocated to the Peter Hay Course and rebranded as the AT&T Fan Zone. “There’s never been a strong sense of arrival,” says John. “We want to create a grand entrance.” Among the many new exhibits and interactive offerings will be a 7,000-square-foot tent called “Experience Monterey County.” It will feature displays and information highlighting the local cultural and recreational scene with a strong emphasis on food and wine.
Of course, amidst all this fun, an important golf tournament will be conducted. Defending champ Phil Mickelson headlines the typically deep professional field. Changes are afoot amongst the amateurs. One thorny issue for the tournament brass has been a long-standing loyalty to graying celebrities who haven’t been relevant to pop culture in decades and therefore have little appeal to many fans. John says that some of the oldtimers have been politely “rotated off,” making room for a younger, hipper collection of amateurs. Justin Timberlake returns for the first time in a while, but he may not have the best pipes in the field, as he will be joined by Charles Kelly, the singer for the Grammy winning group Lady Antebellum.
Carson Daly will tee it up this year, riding high as the host of the smash TV show “The Voice.” Surfing icon Kelly Slater will also be playing, and there are high hopes for another amphibious celebrity, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. At press time, he had yet to commit, but there is a strong chance Phelps will play in his first Pro-Am, feeding his new competitive outlet now that he has retired from swimming with a record 22 Olympic medals.
Various glamour-boy quarterbacks may also join the Pro-Am field depending on how their seasons finish up. John mentions by name Tom Brady, Tony Romo and “the Mannings,” also known as Peyton
All the upgrades to this year’s Pro-Am dovetail with John’s overall philosophy: “We’re not going to do anything to take away from what has made this tournament such a fabulous success for so many years. We just want to make little improvements where we can.”
BRING IN THE LADIES
One of golf’s big storylines in 2013 will be the fanfare that comes with the first Masters to be played with female members of the host venue, Augusta National. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Wall Street matron Darla Moore were chosen to break Augusta’s grass ceiling, adding some much needed diversity to a club that has long been a gathering spot for the ruling class. Being fitted for a green jacket is similar to being invited to play in the AT&T National Pro-Am in that business accomplishments are usually more important than golfing ability. One of the golf salon’s favorite new pastimes is speculating on which women will be the next members at Augusta National. Playing in the AT&T could be an important stepping stone if the tournament follows Augusta’s lead and begins to invite more women. In recent years only two have played: soccer star Brandi Chastain and Heidi Ueberroth, the president of global marketing partnerships and international business operations for the National Basketball Association. Chastain brought to Pebble a girl-next-door appeal and awesome athleticism, but any woman who has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a sports bra is probably not going to get a green jacket. Ueberroth, however, is a strong candidate. In addition to her weighty title, she has the right golf bona fides, as the daughter of Pebble Beach Co. managing partner Peter Ueberroth. And in her previous stints at the Pro-Am, Ueberroth displayed a strong golf game and an ambivalence for the spotlight that would surely please the lords of Augusta.
Plenty of other women who would be welcome additions to the Pro-Am field, to say nothing of the membership ranks at Augusta National. Virginia M. (Ginni) Rometty, the president and CEO of IBM, is a passionate golfer with history on her side: the previous four IBM CEO’s were given green jackets.
Carol Semple Thompson is a part of a great golf family and her accomplishments as an amateur landed her in the World Golf Hall of Fame–how has she never played the AT&T? Plenty of high-tech rainmakers have parlayed their business wizardry into Pro-Am appearances, so why not invite the most powerful woman in Silicon Valley, Marissa Mayer, the president and CEO of Yahoo? After all, she lists golf as a hobby on her official bio. And I’m guessing she looks great in green.
The 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am tournament runs February 4-10. For more information, go to www.attpbgolf.com.